On Reading and Collecting Occult Books

occult paperbacksThis, my friends, is what it’s all about. Fuck your fancy hardback collection!

How could a person possibly enjoy Simon’s Necronomicon if they’ve never heard of Cthulu? Could they possibly feel the full impact of Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness having never before encountered the dread cry of “Tekeli-li!”? Haven’t you ever noticed the references to Pallas Athena and the Balm of Gilead in Poe‘s the Raven? They couldn’t have made much sense to you unless you were familiar with Greek mythology and Biblical lore. Speaking of mythology, isn’t the Simon Necronomicon, the text that we started off with, basically just a silly version of the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation myth?

Even the silliest, most entry-level texts of Occultism require an awful lot of background reading if they are to be understood and fully appreciated.

“Occult” literally means hidden, and many “Occultists” out there limit their research to the esoteric. Occultism is generally concerned with spirituality and the supernatural, and many “occultists” that I have encountered have little to no interest in the major world religions, history, philosophy or science. I personally fail to understand how they can comprehend the Hidden without first studying and attempting to understand what is in plain view.

The internet has made countless esoteric texts instantly available to the neophyte. A few clicks on wikipedia and Curious George ends up bypassing Homer and the Bible and gets straight into nutty books filled with references to these works. These n00bs can’t possibly understand the stuff they’re supposedly reading.

Maybe I’m just getting old. I have similar complaints about kids these days being able to download obscure black metal records when they’ve never listened to Megadeth or Anthrax. When I was a teenager, we had to buy albums and check the thank-you lists in the cd booklets to find the names of other cool bands. Nowadays a kid can go from being a Justin Bieber fan to a devotee of obscure Finnish death-doom in just a few clicks. Start at the start or go die in your posehole, you annoying little snots.

And music, while obviously very different to literature, can also contain references to other music. (I felt chills the first time I heard the singer from Crypt Sermon bellow out “Fool, fool!” in this track, a song that is incidentally based on a story from the Bible. If you don’t understand the “Fool, fool!” reference, please abruptly find the closest exit and leave the hall. (That’s another heavy metal reference btw.)) This being said, a person can certainly enjoy a song without having heard older songs of the same genre. References within music (and fiction) generally serve aesthetic purposes.

Occult texts are a little different though. Their writers often deliberately attempt to obfuscate their message, and esoteric references are one of the more popular methods of doing so. These references, while often having an aesthetic quality, primarily serve as what I’ll refer to as “initiation bridges”. You don’t get to cross the bridge and pass on to green fields of understanding until you’ve done your research and found out what the reference means.

mythology book collectionSome of my books on Mythology

No matter how much background reading you do, you’re bound to run into these initiation bridges on your quest for secret knowledge. In my opinion, however, the occult adventurer is better off starting off on their quest with at least some of their homework done. If you want to become a psychologist, you need to study the history of psychology. Why should it be any different if you want to be a magician?

If you want to be a Satanist, please read the Bible and familiarize yourself with who Satan really is. It strikes me as bizarre that a person whose religion is named after a character from a book would not have read said book. Bizarre, but not surprising; Christians are in the same boat, with the same book. Hard copies of the Bible are widely and cheaply (if not freely) available, and it is my firm belief that every Christian, Satanist, atheist and occultist should have a copy of it on their bookshelf for reference. I have a few.

bible collection

I recently finished reading Liber Falxifer, a grimoire that I can’t imagine making much sense to anyone who isn’t familiar with Gnosticism and the book of Genesis. Indeed, it was my ruminations on that book that led to this post. Check this out:
poser occultist booksI saw this posted on facebook a few weeks ago. That collection of 6 books makes up the entirety of an individual’s library. Now look, I understand that it’s not fair to judge a person based on the number of books in their collection, but I think it is fair to judge a person based on the types of books in their collection. The books in this collection are fancy-pants hardbacks that sell individually for anything between 50 and 1000 dollars. Does expensive mean better? Can you remember the tale of the Emperor and his new clothes?

I also think it’s fair, and even important, in this situation, to judge a person based on the types of books NOT in their collection. His six books doubtlessly contain references to texts not in his possession. Does he just use wikipedia to check these references? Don’t get me wrong; I use the internet to research stuff all the time. Just remember that in this case, this person has thousands of dollars to spend on books, and it very much seems that he wants people to know that he’s a book collector. It looks like he has deliberately limited his purchases to obscure, expensive books, and as you can tell, this pisses me off. Books are for reading, not for showing off.

Yeah, ok. I am obviously guilty of showing off my book collection at every given opportunity, but at least I actually read them.

You might accuse me of jealousy, and while I can freely admit that I’m jealous of anyone who clearly has fewer responsibilities than I, I would not trade my extensive collection of trashy paperback classics for a much smaller collection of far more expensive texts. For a thousand dollars, you could buy one copy of Liber Falxifer from an Ebay auction or literally hundreds of peculiar and interesting paperbacks from library book sales and second hand book stores. Which choice is going to give you more hours of entertainment? Which choice is going to give you more knowledge?

Interestingly enough, the author of Liber Falxifer seems to agree with me on the price issue. In an interview he actually encouraged people to download pdf versions of his sold-out books rather than paying anything over the original sale price for second hand copies. I have to say, I respect him for that. The original prices for his works are reasonable for nice books put out by an independent publisher.

You see, I understand that some things are worth more than others, but just as an expensive video game is useless without a console, so too is an occult book without an appropriate amount of background knowledge. I don’t think it controversial to say that Occultism is about knowledge, and spending a ridiculous amount of money on a rare occult book does not make you a knowledgeable occultist.

web of occult books.jpgI’m already seeing about 5 more connections between these texts.

I had an English teacher when I was in secondary school who used to say, “You can buy fashion, but you can’t buy style.” I’ve been struggling to make a very similar point as succinctly. To sum up this post then: Any fool can buy books, but true understanding of the Occult is available only to the dedicated student.

The practical value of studying the occult is a separate matter, one which I might address in the future. For now, it shall suffice to say that personally, I reckon most of it’s absolute rubbish.

To end on a positive note though, let us remember that while many texts require extensive background reading, these texts will likely also lead to further reading. One of my favourite things about reading is finding the name of some curious book being mentioned and then going out and tracking down a copy, only to find it filled with references to other curious tomes. You’re never going to run out of books to read, thank goodness.

occult book collection.jpg“Not for sale. Just showcasing my collection as of 2017.”

The Unknown Origins of the Nine Unknown Men

talbot mundy nine unknownThe Nine Unknown – Talbot Mundy
1923

This is a 1923 adventure novel by Talbot Mundy. It’s a moderately entertaining read, but the writing is surprisingly heavy for a work that was originally serialized in Adventure Magazine. It has the kind of plot that makes you want to read quickly, but the writing is so dense that you can’t really skim through it. The frustratingly large cast of characters is made up of protagonists from Mundy’s other works, and as I haven’t read anything else by Mundy, I repeatedly found myself having to consult the first chapter in order to figure out who was who. By the end of the novel I had figured out that the team of good guys consists of a Sikh, a Muslim (with several interchangeable sons), a Christian priest, a strange Indian man and four white guys. The white guys are the heroes from other books by Mundy. I’m sure his fans would have loved this crossover, but I could barely tell these lads apart.

This dream team was assembled by the priest to help attain a mysterious set of books that contain some terrible knowledge. These books are kept by a very secretive and mysterious secret society known as the Nine Unknown or the Nine Unknown Men. The priest intends to burn the books as soon as he gets his hands on them in order to keep the public from ever reading their secrets. Naturally enough, the Nine Unknown don’t want to let this happen. (I found the priest’s name, Father Cyprian, quite intriguing; Saint Cyprian of Antioch was an alleged sorcerer and author of several grimoires. Can we be sure that he really wants to burn these books?).

Also thrown into the mix are a fake Nine. These impostors share the protagonists’ goal of attaining the books, but they want to do so for their own benefit. These lads are trained killers and hypnotists and cause some serious problems for the good guys (and the original Nine, who actually seem pretty chill once you get to know them). Fires, jailbreaks, trips to a brothel, talking corpses, unruly mobs and vicious battles ensue.

Ok, so an adventure novel about a secret society and a set of mysterious books that features hypnotism and chatty corpses sounds like the kind of thing that you’d expect to find reviewed on this blog. However, the really interesting thing about this novel is not the text itself but the conspiracy theory that grew out of it. You see, there are people out there who have come to believe in the literal existence of the Nine Unknown.

The internet is full of confused references to this book and the conspiracy theories it inspired. Most depict that the Nine as guardians of society, withholding dangerous information about nuclear physics to protect humanity from itself. This much is revealed or at least suggested by the end of the novel. But you’ll find many websites that claim that Mundy’s novel mentions the specific topics of the forbidden books being sought by Father Cyprian. The topics of the nine forbidden tomes are supposedly propaganda, physiology, microbiology, the transmutation of metals, communication (both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial), gravitation, cosmogony, light and sociology.
9 unknown ancient origins
(From Ancient-Origins.net)
You see, the problem here is that the topics of the books are never given in Mundy’s novel. Like many of the best conspiracy theories, this idea has its origin in Pauwels and Bergier’s Morning of the Magicians. While the two Frenchmen don’t actually claim that the list comes from Mundy’s novel, the passage in question (or at least the translation of this passage) certainly makes it seem like Mundy had given the list. The supposed topics of the Nine books are almost definitely of P+B’s invention. Also, in the passage in question, they quote Mundy, and although I am working with a translation (presumably of a translation), the quote is not to be found in The Nine Unknown. Looking up the quote online only brings up links to Pauwels and Bergier’s text. I’m not entirely convinced that Pauwels and Bergier made up the quote, but given the rest of their body of work, it really wouldn’t surprise me if they had.

Aside from Mundy, Pauwels and Bergier’s only other source on this topic is Louis Jacolliot, a man whose ideas of Agartha, a city in the centre of the world, I have previously come across in Arktos. (Arktos is a wonderful book, but it’s basically a compilation of some of the worlds craziest conspiracy theories. Unsurprisingly, it contains many references to the work of Pauwels and Bergier. It also contains several references to Om, another novel by Mundy.) P+B say of him; “Jacolliot states categorically that the society of Nine did actually exist. And, to make it all the more intriguing, he refers in this connection to certain techniques, unimaginable in 1860, such as, for example, the liberation of energy, sterilization by radiation and psychological warfare.” Note that Jacolliot died more than 30 years before the novel was written, so his knowledge of the Nine would be very interesting if it was real. However, while Pauwels and Bergier claim to have found information on the Nine Unknown in Jacolliot’s work, they fail to mention the specific text in which they found this information. I have not read anything by Jacolliot, but other people have, and as far as I know, nobody has found the section alluded to by P + B. Mundy’s novel is then, as far as any sane person has been able to tell, the earliest mention of the Nine Unknown.

A big chunk of Pauwels and Bergier’s section on the Nine Unknown has to do with the Nine’s origins. Apparently they were founded by Emperor Asoka (Ashoka). You will notice however, that all respectable sources (examples 1, 2, 3) on the Emperor completely fail to mention the Nine. Is that because the Nine have suppressed this information or because it’s a load of bollocks? I’ll let you decide.

Since Pauwels and Bergier’s book came out, the Nine Unknown have become key players in the world of occultism and conspiracy theories. They pop up everywhere. Anton LaVey thanked them in the dedication that was included in the first editions of the Satanic Bible. According to Frank Lauria’s Doctor Orient Series (expect a post on same soon), the Nine are a benevolent group of mystics including the immortal Count De Saint Germain. They even appear as rockstars in the Illuminatus! Trilogy.
nine unknown illuminatus

Mundy’s text has been widely available for almost a century, and you’d think that anybody writing about the Nine Unknown would have started with reading this book. Unfortunately, judging by the articles I’ve seen online, this has not been case. If you want to read it yourself, it’s available online. However, nearly all of the copies of the text I found online were incomplete, missing several pages at the very end of the novel. Here is a link to the complete text.

A Chat with Sandy Robertson, Author of the Aleister Crowley Scrapbook

the aleister crowley scrapbookThe Aleister Crowley Scrapbook – Sandy Robertson
Foulsham – 1988 + 2002

Although I don’t practice Magick or believe in most of his bullshit, I have written about Aleister Crowley several times. As full of shit as he clearly was, he led a peculiarly interesting life, and while there are countless books about his magickal philosophy, there are also many books that discuss his life and legacy. The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook is one such work. It’s a collection of articles, photographs, poems, and various other bits and pieces, all relating to Mr. Crowley. For somebody who hasn’t heard To Mega Therion, this could serve as a nice introduction; it uses cool pictures and first hand sources to form a biography and discuss Crowley’s influence on pop culture. It does not get bogged down in his magickal theory. (Thank heavens.) For the more seasoned Crowleyite, this book contains several, very interesting, items that were previously unpublished. So whether you’re a Crowley neophyte or a high ranking member of the O.T.O., this is a cool book to have in your collection.

My only real complaint about this book is that it’s too short. The material that’s here is great, but you can find lots of other Crowleyana online. Given the wealth of information about the Great Beast that is currently available on the internet, it would be physically impossible to compile a Crowley scrapbook that would come close to being comprehensive. One must also remember that this book was published in 1988, before the days of google image search. Its author, Sandy Robertson, didn’t merely copy and paste this stuff from wikipedia. He actually went out and acquired physical copies of the documents herein.

sandy b&w_resized_6 (1)
Photo of Sandy by Ann Pearce

Sandy is the former features editor of Sounds magazine, he has appeared in a BBC documentary on Aleister Crowley, and he is one of the individuals responsible for giving Montague Summers‘ grave a headstone. On top of that, he is a really nice guy.  We have recently been chatting about the Scrapbook, Crowley and a few other bits and pieces.

crowley magick robe

Duke: The range of material in the Scrapbook is really impressive. How long did it take to acquire all of that stuff? Any interesting stories about how you got your hands on it?

Sandy: I’d been fascinated by AC since childhood, despite, as I say in the Scrapbook,  being warned off by my father. Of course, that only made the subject more attractive! My parents were quite lenient really – I remember my mother getting me into the x- film Dr Blood’s Coffin when I was about ten by pleading with the ticket lady! “He LOVES this stuff, he won’t be scared!”

As there was no Internet back then I had to go to places like photo libraries for images. In one I found an original dust- jacket for Crowley’s Moonchild novel – apart from a crease from folding it was gleaming like new, with a label on the back indicating it had been sent out at the time of publication to promote it. It had obviously been laying in that file since the 1920s.

People like my friend Timothy d’Arch Smith, the eminent bibliographer who’s forgotten more about AC than I will ever know, were a great help. He helped me get the rights to the memoir by AC’s landlord, and put me on to the two feuding ex mistresses of Beresford Egan whom I had to negotiate to reprint his fabulous caricature of AC. (My favourite part of the book, Ed.) They hated each other and his estate had been split between them. The AC memoir had been published by Tim and his pal Victor Hall as a limited edition booklet under the “Victim Press” imprint – geddit?! Victor asked a very reasonable £25 which he claimed was “legally necessary”! Tim told me that Victor was once found at Heathrow trying to fly to Paris in his nightgown, having escaped from some mental facility or other. Police asked the cabbie who’d taken him there why he hadn’t been alerted by his attire, to which he responded, “I thort ‘e was an A-rab, guvnor!”

David Tibet found me, if memory serves, an original booklet from AC’s funeral – he found two at a fiver each! It’s been reprinted since then, of course, but at the time it was very rare. Tibbles used to be my flatmate when I was in Primrose Hill. The landlady was alarmed by his bald head and leather attire. (Tibet has become a legendary cult figure  –  the landlady would surely approve of his Paul Smith suits which long ago replaced the boots and leather coat.)

thoughtful aleister crowleyDuke: Funny you should mention Timothy d’Arch Smith. I’ve reviewed a few of his books already, and I have a copy of his novel, Alembic, lying on my shelf just waiting to be read. I looked at your thank-you list at the back of the Scrapbook and saw a few other names that have popped up on this blog before, Francis King being one of them. I’m actually halfway through writing a post about his controversial book on the O.T.O., and I’m wondering if you perhaps have any insider information on that scandal or any advice to a person writing about it. (I’m a bit scared the O.T.O. will try to shut down my site if I mention it!)

Sandy: Francis King was a lovely guy but I can’t shed any light on what you ask about. I was very chuffed when he did a fortune telling set for WHSmith, and in the numerology bit he used an imaginary fellow called Sandy Robertson. Actually the personality details were spookily accurate.

Duke: Were you careful about not stepping on toes when you were compiling the Scrapbook? I can’t imagine the members of the Stiff Kittens being delighted with what you said about their record art!

Sandy: I never avoid stepping on anyone’s toes which gets me into scrapes. I always review things honestly rather than backslap, which seems to be what lots of folk in all genres of art do. Backscratching.

Duke: You mentioned before that the American edition of the Scrapbook is slightly shorter due to a complaint from Kenneth Anger. Can you give us the details of this scandal, Hollywood Babylon style, or would doing so put you at a risk of being cursed by Anger?

Sandy: I love Anger’s work but he does seem to make a career of being a professional asshole. Basically, my publisher told me he objected to my printing letters from him to a guy in the OTO who had bootlegged Jimmy Page’s soundtrack to his film Lucifer Rising. The letters show them to be on good terms, but when the guy was expelled from the OTO he said Anger turned on him and acted shocked about his behaviour. Hmmm. Well I never. Say no more for fear of little men, eh, Duc! These are cold, hard facts I’m giving you…heh heh. He also objected to my saying he claimed Sympathy for the Devil by the Stones was about him. If anyone can find a quote anywhere where he claims that I’d be grateful as I’m sure I didn’t conjure it out of nowhere. Grrrr.

aleister crowley scrapbooksI somehow ended up with two copies of this book, a hardback from 1988 and a paper back from 2002. The 2002 edition has an extra paragraph in the introduction. Otherwise identical.

Duke: In “The Fictional Crowley” section of your book, you mention several books/stories containing characters based on Crowley. I’ve already read the books by Maugham and Wheatley and the story by M.R. James. (Loved them all!) Which of the other books featuring fictional Crowleys are worth reading?

Sandy: I’ve been compiling a list for years now of every instance I can find where AC appears as a fictional character or where a character appears to be based on him, and I think I’m up to about 60 now.

The James Blish novel Black Easter is marvellous, also a sequel called The Day After Judgement. The magickian Theron Ware has no physical resemblance to AC but my gut tells me he’s the inspiration for a demonologist who brings about the end of the world!

Colin Wilson’s Man Without A Shadow has been reissued under a few different names and remains an amusing read.  A great man, very kind and sadly missed. My father used to make his walking sticks!

AC is still going strong in fiction – in recent years I have loved The Monster’s Lament by Robert Edric, in which he tries to swap souls with a man about to be hanged, and Jake Arnott’s two books The Devil’s Paintbrush and The House of Rumour, both loosely based on fact. I wrote an article on AC in fiction for Fenris Wolf on this stuff recently.

My AC fiction list is for a projected handlist – not sure I could dignify it with the title of ‘bibliography’ and I’m notoriously lazy so who knows when it’ll see the light of day, especially as new titles keep appearing.

crowley with his magic wandDuke: It’s now 70 years since Crowley died. Since your book came out, the fickle public has had an extra 30 years to forget about him. On the other hand, your book (along with the internet) has made Crowley and his writings a lot more accessible. Do you reckon that the general public is more or less aware of Crowley than they were when the Scrapbook came out? Are you still as interested in AC as you were when your book came out?

Sandy: Obviously the internet has made it easier to locate materials and people, and I guess younger folk are more aware of AC than they were in the 80s when the Scrapbook came out. I was in HMV buying this fabulous new film A Dark Song, about a woman hiring a guy to do the Abremalin Ritual (which AC famously never completed) and without knowing that I was buying an occult-y item the sales lad looked at my Houdini t-shirt and said “That looks like Aleister Crowley!”

Yes I am still fascinated by him. I don’t do magick in any practical way, except that everything is magick. I cannot debate details of this or that translation of whatever ritual or manuscript. I’m more obsessed by the man and his life.

Duke: That film, A Dark Song, looks right up my alley. I reviewed S.L. MacGregor Mathers’ translation of the Abramelin text a few months ago! Not only that, but this is an Irish horror film? I don’t know how I hadn’t heard of it until now! Did I ever tell you that I was born and raised in Dublin? Hey, speaking of Ireland, I was doing a bit of online sleuthing, and I found an interview you did with the Boomtown Rats in 1977. It starts off with the sentence “I’ve never been hot to trot for Irish people”…

Sandy: I think the Dark Song film is from an Irish director and was filmed in Wales. Sorry about the jibes re Ireland. Growing up I felt, to steal a quote I read, that my homeland was hot in summer, freezing in winter, and unbearable at all times. And Ireland seemed little better, the same prejudices magnified. Only when I’d been away for decades did I appreciate the marvellous wealth of literature and folklore of the two countries. I’m a great Wilde fan and love reading about Scottish witches. There were executions in Paisley, next to my hometown Renfrew, “cradle of the Stuarts” as the first was born there when Robert de Bruce’s daughter, wed to the Royal steward, gave premature birth as she died falling off her horse. I still can’t stand that cunt Geldof, though.

I’ve never paid much attention to Sir Bob, so I don’t know if he’s really a cunt or not, but strangely enough, it turns out that his late daughter, Peaches, was a huge fan of Crowley. She even had an O.T.O. tattoo.
peaches geldof instagram crowley

Although published almost 30 years ago, Sandy’s book is well known by Thelemites and still in print. I reckon it’s a nice addition to any Crowley collection (although I don’t see a copy of it on Peaches’ shelf!), but Sandy has had his detractors:

Sandy: I was only lately shown a review that came out at the time of publication, penned by a guy I’m assured is one of the biggest prats in Thelemic circles. He opined that it was unlikely AC had gay sex with Pollitt (the man he’d called his first wife!) and that the author pic of me made him realise that this is wishful thinking on my part!?! First, I’m not gay and have no prejudice either way. Second, I don’t know how he could intuit my sexuality from a head and shoulders b&w shot. Third, poetry AC wrote to drag artiste Pollitt is explicitly homosexual.

Another guy who turned up at a signing asked if I practice magick. I said no, if I was going to do it it’d be a serious undertaking – I probably don’t have enough discipline and one wouldn’t do, say, nuclear physics on the weekend for a lark. He went away and wrote that I admitted I was just another bandwagon jumper who latched onto Crowley. I should have known better than talk to a hack – I mean, I was one!

I’ll just point out that although Sandy had the decency not to name names, the review by the man who (perhaps wishfully) believed that Sandy was wishfully believing that Crowley was gay is fairly easy to find online. Let’s just say his last name rhymes with jelly.

I like books about Aleister Crowley and the occult and all of that good stuff, but my first love is, and always will be, rock’n’roll. When having a discussion with the man who introduced Genesis P-Orridge to Frank Zappa, I couldn’t resist asking a couple of off-topic questions:

Duke: Did you really cut an interview with Roky Erickson short because he was brandishing a huge knife?

Sandy: A fan gave Roky a knife, which he waved around during the photo session alarming lenswoman Jill Furmanovsky. The reason I walked out of the interview early was that questions I posed were met by minutes long silences before he’d finally say something rivetting like ‘Ah doan’t know”. I played the tape to some people and they understood. I left the tape running and the whole time I was away he sat there with his wife and not a single syllable passed between them. You could feel the waves of mental illness coming off him. Brian Wilson was a happy bunny compared to Roky.

Duke: Are there any recordings of your old band, the Nobodies?

Sandy: Luckily, I’m sure any bedroom tapes of the Nobodies have been erased. Missing episodes of Mystery & Imagination are a tragedy for posterity, missing tapes of me caterwauling are a blessing. I did record a synth type album and sent it to Eno’s Obscure Records. He had the sense not to release it. My old Nobodies pal Alex Fergusson was in Alternative TV and Psychic TV before moving to Germany and begetting twin sons. If anyone’s in touch with him I’d love to hear from him.

I want to thank Sandy for being so patient, accommodating and pleasant. For more of his stuff, check out Rock’s Back Pages and go out and buy his book.

Kenneth Grant’s Magical Revival

kenneth grant magical revival crowley lovecraft
The Magical Revival – Kenneth Grant
Skoob – 1991 (Originally published in 1972)

Fuck. Here we go again.

Kenneth Grant, Aleister Crowley‘s protégé, wrote a set of 9 books called the Typhonian Trilogies. This is the first in the collection, and it serves to lay out the key players, ideas and history of modern magic. It’s infamous for its attempts to link the weird tales of H.P. Lovecraft with the magickal ideas of Aleister Crowley. The introduction to the Simon Necronomicon, published 5 years later, attempts to do something similar, but we all know how ridiculous that book is. I wanted to read this one to see if it was more convincing. (Incidentally, Simon, in his Dead Names: The Dark History of the Necronomicon, claims that Grant was to use the Necronomicon as a source for some of the later works in the Typhonian series.)

I first tried to purchase this book several years ago, but it’s hard to find an affordable copy. Plus, a quick google search for it will lead you to a .pdf of the text. At one point I had decided to just read it online, but on seeing it show up in Alan Moore’s Neonomicon, I became convinced that I needed a physical copy for my library.

magical revival in alan moore's neonomiconIf a comic book character has read it, I have to read it too.

Most of this book is spent expounding the magickal theories of Aleister Crowley. There’s other chapters on Austin Ozman Spare and Dion Fortune. The part on Lovecraft is only a few pages, and it doesn’t delve very deeply into Lovecraftian lore at all.

I reckon Grant had a decent understanding of all the different occulty things he is talking about, but he doesn’t always make that easy to believe. Don’t get me wrong, there are entire pages of the book that are lucid and interesting, but the writing frequently spins out of control and becomes terribly muddled. It becomes impossible to distinguish between when Grant is making brilliant connections, when he is making less convincing connections, and when he is talking absolute bollocks. My job, believe it or not, involves teaching people how to write. I am a fairly lenient marker, but I am strict with my students on a few things: clarity, cohesion and referencing. If little Kenny handed this in to me, I would tell him it’s rubbish and make him rewrite it. I get that occult writers all like to fill their books with tricks, traps and only a little truth, but this is just taking the piss.

magical revival kenneth grant student commentsThe Magical Revival vs. My Grade 11 marking scheme.

There are some cool things about this book. Kenneth Grant did actually know several of the people that he is writing about, he shit-talks L. Ron Hubbard, and the system of magic he is propounding is unabashedly left hand path. That being said, the whole book is a load of bollocks, and I walked away from it having learned very little. Apparently, this is the most straightforward entry in the Typhonian series too, but hopefully I won’t be reading the rest. I don’t think I’ll have the stomach for any more of this kind of nonsense for a while anyways; I guess I’m just not cut out for the Hogwarts lifestyle.

My hero, Montague Summers

montague summersToday, the 10th of August 2017, is the 69th anniversary of the death of Reverend Alphonsus Joseph-Mary Augustus Montague Summers. Monty was the early 20th century’s foremost expert on witchcraft, and if you’ve read through this blog before, you’ll probably know that he has long been one of my heroes. He seemed to have spent most of his life reading, writing, editing, and translating books on witches, vampires and restoration drama. I sometimes wish that I could spend as much time in the library as he, but alas, life is cruel and I am burdened with a thousandfold responsibilities that hinder my erudition.

I’ve read two books about Monty recently, the first of which, The Galanty Show, is an autobiography that was posthumously published in 1980.  While I had read elsewhere that this book does not go into much detail on Summers’ experiences with the occult, I thought that it might at least throw some light on how he adopted his rather peculiar attitudes toward the paranormal. I had my eye out for a copy for a while, and I got a good deal on one last year. It smells a bit moldy, but otherwise it’s in absolutely perfect condition.

montague summers galanty showThe Galanty Show; the Autobiography of Montague Summers
1980 – Cecil Woolf Publishing

Montague Summers was born into a wealthy, conservative family, and was raised to be one of those people who like to look back at the past and pretend to themselves that it was better than the present. Modern beliefs are crass and stupid; old ones are better: ‘People used to believe that witches existed, but they don’t now. Hmmm, witches must exist! Damn this modern incredulity!’ He felt the same way about literature too; he once claimed that Varney the Vampire (1847), a serialized Penny Dreadful, was as good as Dracula (1897), the single most influential vampire story ever told. In fairness to Summers though, he comes across as relatively self aware and willing to laugh at himself in this autobiography. If he was a snobby old plonker, he was at least a charming, snobby old plonker.

I had already surmised about as much about Montague Summers after reading a few of his other books, and by the time I got around to reading the Galanty Show, I was not so much interested in how he acquired his beliefs as I was in how sincere these beliefs were. Unfortunately, he is fairly elusive on this point. He seems more intent on characterizing himself as an old-fashioned man of letters than he does on telling his life story or discussing his metaphysical beliefs. In truth, this book is mostly just him talking about the books and plays that he was and wasn’t allowed to read when he was a child.

Now, it should be remembered that this autobiography was unpublished during Summers’ life, and the bibliography discussed below states that he had intended to write a second autobiographical work. This unwritten volume would have presumably covered his experiences studying theology, his supposed ordination as a Catholic priest, more information on his fascination with the occult, and perhaps even some brief discussion of his alleged sexual misdemeanors. In other words, it would have covered the really interesting parts of his life. The 8 page essay on Summers in Timothy d’Arch Smith’s Books of the Beast was more elucidating than his own autobiography. (In said essay, the author refers to the Galanty Show as “rather dull”.)

But The Galanty Show is not an absolutely horrible read. It’s boring, snobbish and full of references to works that few, if any, alive today have read, but this very pomposity is moderately entertaining. There was one part in which Summers is describing an old man who used to run a book shop, and he says; “A bath might have been of signal benefit, for I imagine he had washed neither face nor hands for many a twelvemonth.” I laughed heartily after reading that and hence determined to incorporate the word ‘twelvemonth’ into my lexicon. There are also two short chapters on witchcraft and ghosts, but Monty makes these more about books he has read and stories he has heard than about deep personal reflections. If your interest in Montague Summers is due to his expertise on Witchcraft, this is not essential reading.

montague summers witchcraftThese are the books that Montague Summers wrote about witches.

A few weeks ago, I acquired a copy of the Montague Summers edition of Henry Boguet’s Examen of Witches. I thought that I had completed the collection of works on Witchcraft translated, edited and written by Summers, and I was going to make a facebook post with a picture of the collection. Luckily, I decided to check myself before I wrecked myself. There’s no complete Montague Summers bibliography online though, and so I purchased a copy of Timothy d’Arch Smith’s Montague Summers;  A Bibliography.

montague summers bibliographyMontague Summers; a Bibliography – Timothy d’Arch Smith
The Aquarian Press – 1983 (First Published 1964)

Apart from a brief introduction, this is just a bibliography. There are two editions (as far as I know), and my copy is the revised and slightly expanded 1983 version.

witchcraft montague summersThe books about witches that Montague Summers edited, translated or introduced.

I was dismayed to discover that my Montague Summers Witchcraft collection is 3 books short of complete:

  1. He provided the introduction and notes for The Confessions of Madeleine Bavant in 1933. I am presuming he was also the translator, but I’m not sure. This one was banned as obscene shortly after publication, and all unsold copies were destroyed. It’s fairly rare.
  2. He also wrote an introduction and notes for an edition of Richard Bovet’s Pandaemonium, a 1684 work on demonology. This has been reprinted since, and there are copies available, but they’re fairly pricey. I’ll be keeping an eye out for this one.
  3. Finally, he wrote a foreword for Frederick Kaigh’s Witchcraft and Magic of Africa. This book is fairly widely available, but it’s the least appealing of the three by far.

Will I ever complete the Montague Summers Witchcraft collection? Probably not. The Confessions looks impossible to track down, and he didn’t have enough involvement with the other two to warrant me spending much money on them. Besides, I should probably read a few more of his books before I buy anymore. I’m sure it won’t be long until Monty’s next appearance on this blog.

montague summers vampires and werewolves
These are just some of the other cool books by Montague Summers.

The Atlantean High Priest Klarkash-ton

klarkash-ton cycle clark ashton smith.jpgThe Klarkash-Ton Cycle – Clark Ashton Smith
Chaosium – 2008

Collecting books of weird fiction can be a frustrating hobby. Many writers’ short story anthologies are out of print, expensive and yet available online for free. Other collections are haphazardly thrown together by careless publishers only looking to make some quick cash. There are decent collections out there; I’ve read Penguin’s editions of Lovecraft, Blackwood and Machen, but these are generally just primers that include the 10 most famous stories by the writer. There’s nothing wrong with these, but I always feel that they might be leaving out some true gems. In a perfect world, a publisher would put out complete or at least exhaustive, annotated, multi-volume collections of the writings of Lovecraft, Bierce, Machen, Blackwood, Chambers, Smith and all the other lads.

Now, there’s a publishing company called Chaosium that had an idea to do something along those lines. Their Machen collections were a decent effort, although the tales in each volume get progressively worse. Their Robert W. Chambers collection claims to complete, but it’s not really.  From what I have read of Chambers, this is probably a good thing, but the collection shouldn’t claim to be complete if it’s not. This collection also includes isolated chapters from The Tracer of Lost Persons because those chapters are a bit weird. I’m sorry; I know I just complained because this collection wasn’t entirely complete, but I find the inclusion of isolated weird chapters from a novel to be really annoying. Give me the whole thing, or give me nothing at all.

The only other Chaosium book I own is a collection of stories by Clark Ashton Smith. I picked it up on a whim at a used bookstore a few years ago. It was one of those ‘I’m the only customer in this shop, so I better buy something’ situations. It sat on my shelf for a good while, but last week, I picked it up off the shelf and dove in.

Let me tell you something; Clark Ashton Smith is deadly. I don’t really want to analyze these stories too deeply. I’ll just say that they are exactly the kind of thing that I want to read: evil wizards, cosmic insect gods, infernal texts of black magic including the fabled Necronomicon, bodily dismemberment with a surgical saw… Holy Fuck, this stuff is amazing.  I need more stories like this in my life. Delicious.

Now that I have gotten my feelings about the writing of Clark Ashton Smith out of the way, I want to address my feelings about this book. It was quite disappointing on two counts.

The typos.
How was this book was allowed go into print. It is full of typos. They’re frustrating typos too. Normally, a typo will consist of a misspelled word, e.g. ‘horesradish’ instead of ‘horseradish’. Big deal, we can all figure that kind of thing out. However, the typos in this book are all incorrect words, e.g. ‘ton’ instead of ‘top’. It’s as if the person who typed the text allowed Microsoft spell check to do their proofreading for them. This is actually far more disruptive to the stories than simple misspellings would be. There was one point in which a character ‘picks up his face’ that had me rather confused. After rereading the passage, I realised that he had actually been picking up his mace. There’s at least 2 or 3 of these mistakes in each story too. I’ve seen several other people complain about this issue online, and I have to say that it was very frustrating. There is zero doubt in my mind that this book was not proofread before being published, and I think that reflects very poorly on Chaosium.

The Story Selection
The stories in here are great. Please don’t think that I am saying otherwise. My problem is with the way that the editor has split Smith’s stories between this and at least two other volumes. This collection supposedly contains the Klarkash-Ton Cycle. Klarkash-Ton was the author’s pen-name when writing to his friend, H.P. Lovecraft, and these are the stories that are most akin to Lovecraft’s own tales. (Incidentally, Klarkash-Ton and Lhuv-Kerapht briefly appear together in the last book I reviewed, Robert Anton Wilson’s The Sex Magicians.) Chaosium also published the Tsathoggua Cycle and the Book of Eibon, both of which are mostly comprised of tales by Smith. We have then Chaosium’s distinction between Smith’s Lovecraftian tales, his tales about Eibon, and his tales about Tsathoggua. But Tsathoggua also appeared in Lovecraft’s work, rendering him somewhat Lovecraftian, and Eibon appears in several of the stories in the Klarkash-Ton Cycle. Why the fuck didn’t they just issue 3 ‘best of Clark Ashton Smith’ collections and skip the silly attempts to separate the stories into cycles. I wouldn’t even care if the three collections contained the exact same sets of stories, just don’t give me this ‘3 cycles’ bullshit. Robert M. Price, the editor, addresses this categorization in the introduction, but I wasn’t at all impressed.

One other thing to note about this book, and I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, is that the versions of some of the stories in here are based on original, unpublished drafts of those stories. Also, the final story in here, The Infernal Star, is incomplete – Smith never finished writing it. This book, if it were not so full of spelling mistakes, would probably be great if you were a Smith collector. It’d also be a pretty good starting point if you hadn’t read Smith before. However, even though I haven’t read it, I would suggest buying the Penguin collection if you’re in that position. I’m sure the stories will be great, and the editing has to be better than this muck.

Smith’s writing is good enough to allow me to see past Chaosium’s weird categorization of his stories into three separate cycles, but the absolutely pathetic standard of this book really makes me want to avoid giving that company any more of my money. Their books, although all print-on-demand jobs, aren’t cheap either. Penguin have a collection of Smith’s work, and I’m sure it’s of a far higher standard, but it’s also much smaller. Maybe I’ll buy that one and try to track down the missing stories online.

drake penguin vs chaosium

Trapped in a Dream of the Necronomicon

dead names necronomicon simon
Dead Names: The Dark History of the Necronomicon – Simon

Avon – 2006

Before reading the Simon Necronomicon, I had never entertained the idea that it might be an authentic text, and I was quite surprised when I discovered that many individuals believe that it is truly an ancient spellbook. I gave the matter some consideration, and the only real evidence that I could see for the book’s authenticity was “how much it sucks”. Despite the title and the framing story, there’s very little Lovecraftian material in here. Sure, it’s really only a few oul’ sigils and a muddle of Babylonian mythology. If somebody was going to hoax out a Necronomicon, literature’s most infamous book of twisted black magic, you’d think that they’d make it a bit nastier. As it turns out, Simon, the chap who edited the Necronomicon feels the same way.

Dead Names begins with the expanded story of how the Necronomicon was discovered and published. This tale involves the Kennedy assassinations, the Son of Sam murders, warring covens of witches, mysterious suicides and a bizarre gang of questionably consecrated priests. We’re lashing conspiracies onto conspiracies here, but A) Simon provides evidence for some of his claims, and B) I love conspiracies. This part was pretty good; it felt like reading a more sinister version of the Da Vinci Code. Really, the most disappointing part of the story was getting to the end and realizing that I was only halfway through the book.

You see, unfortunately for everyone, Simon is not just expanding the mythos of the Necronomicon in Dead Names, he is also trying to prove its authenticity. Approximately half of this book is taken up with Simon’s arguing that the Necronomicon is a legitimate ancient text. I could go into explaining his reasoning, but ughh, who fucking cares? (If you do care and you want to witness Simon getting pwned, I strongly suggest checking out the blog of Simon’s arch-nemesis.)

The story of an ancient Babylonian manuscript showing up in New York is unlikely, but it’s totally possible. The story of an ancient manuscript with the same name as a fictional book invented by a horror writer, a text that has clearly been written by a “Mad Arab” who perfectly fits the description of the author in the horror writer’s stories, is far less likely, especially when said writer repeatedly claimed that the manuscript was entirely fictional. Simon says that Lovecraft had read the Necronomicon; Lovecraft said the Necronomicon was “fakery”, “fictitious”, “100% fiction” and “merely a figment of my own imagination”.

Simon has tried to keep his identity secret for the past 40 years because he supposedly came by the book illegally and doesn’t want to deal with the consequences. Why would Lovecraft have repeatedly denied the existence of the same book? Had he come across it illegally too? Why did he write so much about it if he didn’t want people to associate it with him?

Unfortunately, there are no good reasons to believe that the Necronomicon is real. Simon’s arguments are lame, selective and unconvincing, and reading the latter half of this book felt like Chariots of the Gods or some other wishy-washy work of pseudo-academia. I mean, to prove his points, Simon repeatedly references a book by one of the author’s of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, perhaps the most infamously debunked book of conspiracies ever written. Come on Simon, you’re fooling no-one.

Much like the book that its about, Dead Names would have been far better if the author had gone all out horror show. The origin story of the Necronomicon given here features all the shady ingredients necessary to make a truly entertaining weird tale, but Simon constrains himself with a set of unconvincing arguments that do nothing but make him look like a fool. By the end of the book, you start to feel embarrassed for the lad. I mean, nobody over the age of 15 believes the book is real, and Simon himself knows better than anyone that it’s not real, yet he gets into petty squabbles with people over its authenticity. At a certain point it seems to become more important for him to appear smarter than his critics than it does for him to provide evidence that the Necronomicon is real. It’s like watching an internet troll forget that they’re trolling.